Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and Representative Ngodup Tsering during their meeting with the new Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues, Robert Destro at the U.S. State Department, Washington, DC, USA, October 15, 2020. Photo: Office of Tibet, Washington, DC

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Washington DC — President of the Tibetan Government in-Exile Dr Lobsang Sangay, met with Robert A. Destro United States Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thursday, the highest-level meeting between the two administrations after Secretary Destro being appointed as the new US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

"Today marks the historic date when Sikyong (President) Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Central Tibetan Administration entered the United States Harry S. Truman building in Washington DC. This is the first time the CTA Sikyong was formally invited to the State Department for meetings, which marks momentous progress between Tibet-US relations," according to Office of Tibet, Washington DC.

Democratically elected President Dr Sangay met with Robert Destro who is the new Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. Destro is a concurrent head of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. As reported by Bloomberg, hours after Destro’s appointment as the Special Coordinator, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called Destro’s appointment a “political manipulation” and was designed to “interfere in China’s internal affairs and destabilize Tibet.”

"In September 2011 right after taking the oath of Sikyong, Kashag sent an official memo to the Office of Tibet in New York to explore the possibility of having Sikyong formally enter the US State Department. It took nine long years for the US State Department to realize the strategic importance of having the CTA President have formal meetings in the State Department similar to leaders of independent countries," the Office of Tibet said.

'From 2011 to 2018, Dr Sangay had informally met with State Department officials at restaurants, where the existence of the meetings was kept undisclosed and photographs were not allowed. However, in the past year, State Department officials have become increasingly amenable to publishing photo opportunities, and in 2019, a few State Department officials tweeted supportive comments about their meetings with Dr. Sangay. Sikyong’s inclusion into the physical building of the US State Department sends an emphatic acknowledgment by the US Government of the Central Tibetan Administration and the leadership of Sikyong,' it added.

The Office of Tibet’s U.S. location moved from its base in New York to Washington DC in 2014 in an attempt to more effectively advocate for Tibetan issues. In the last six years, the Office of Tibet-DC Representatives and staffers have worked tirelessly since then by directly meeting with different Tibet policy actors, such as senators, congressmen and congresswomen, officials of the state department, and White House.

This past Losar, otherwise known as Tibetan Buddhism New Years, was celebrated in the State Department; North America Representative Ngodup Tsering was invited to speak on behalf of Tibetans on the occasion alongside state department officials. David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, spoke on the occasion. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asia Thomas Vajda, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration Richard Albright, Ambassador Sam Brownback, and Robert Destro attended the reception to celebrate Losar.

Destro told Dr Sangay that he and his team were thrilled to have Sikyong finally visit. During the meeting with Special Coordinator Destro, Dr Sangay told Destro that he welcomed his appointment, and Destro asked what he and the State Department could do to support the Tibetan diaspora.

Sangay went on to explain the importance of passing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 and the alarming worsening conditions of Tibetans in Tibet. Adrian Zenz, a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, reported mid-September of the militarized vocational training of Tibetans—a close replica of Xinjiang’s (East Turkestan) system.

Sikyong Dr Sangay urged Destro to press the Chinese government to have a dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government based on the Middle Way Approach. And finally, Dr Sangay also elucidated the ongoing Indo-Tibet border clashes. Dr Sangay also invited Special Coordinator Destro to visit the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India. Destro was sympathetic to all points made and stated that he wanted to “get things done” in collaboration with Sikyong. Scott Busby, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor was also in attendance.

“This has been long progress for all those involved at the Central Tibetan Administration, and I am pleased that our labor has paid off with this progress, an achievement that paves the way for future Sikyongs and leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration. This is the end result of years of persistent work, and we will take this opportunity to respectfully push for direct dialogue between the Central Tibetan Administration and US officials.

“Today’s unprecedented meeting further strengthens the narrative that the Central Tibetan Administration will be treated akin to other governments by the US State Department, and it is yet another significant win for Tibetans and allies. I want to congratulate Special Coordinator Destro and welcome him to the Tibetan freedom struggle. I am convinced that he will be an ardent advocate for the Tibetan cause and the CTA under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” remarked Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay.

“We are pleased that this meeting was finally approved by nine different offices within the State Department. This is a clear sign of near-unanimous belief within the State Department that the Central Tibetan Administration must have more involvement in the peace process” stated Representative Ngodup Tsering.

After the meeting with Destro, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay had a meeting with Richard Albright, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and Carol Thompson O’Connell, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

This year, the United States Agency for International Development granted direct funding to the Central Tibetan Administration’s Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD), which also reinforces the legitimization of the CTA with other governments.

Earlier this day, Dr Lobsang Sangay met with senior White House officials. The Office of Tibet said they expressed their great gratitude to the Special Coordinator and his team for making the visit possible. The Office would also like to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for approving Sikyong’s visit to the State Department.